The arrest of three IPS officers in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case has given hope to the kin of other “encounter’’ victims.
Recently the well-wishers of Rafiqsha Mamadsha alias Bapudi who was killed in an “encounter” in Jetpur in July 2005, moved the NHRC to seek justice.
Also, Mumbai-based Shamima Raja, mother of “encounter” victim Ishrat Jahan, had move Bombay High Court to seek the re-opening of the case. The 19-year-old college student, Ishrat, had been killed along with three men in an “encounter” on June 15, 2004 on outskirts of Ahmedabad and the Gujarat Police had claimed that the four Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives were on a mission to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
A public interest petition in the Supreme Court, filed by veteran journalist B.G. Verghese, has asked for an inquiry into 21 encounter deaths between 2003 and 2006. It points to several irregularities in the police’s story. “In none of the cases is there any reference to a post-mortem report,” says the petition. And not one of them was produced before a magistrate after being arrested.
The Gujarat police had killed four persons, including Ishrat, a college student, in June 2004, claiming that they were in Ahmedabad to assassinate CM Narendra Modi. A family friend of Ishrat said that in the case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, too, the police had claimed he intended to kill Modi. “For the encounters in Gujarat, the police have used the same pretext: that the terrorist had come to kill Modi,” he added.
Ishrat’s encounter death was among the nine encounters supervised by DIG D G Vanzara. It was the fourth encounter by Vanzara’s team since the 2002 Gujarat riots and was described by the Gujarat police as yet another success in foiling Lashkar-e-Toiba’s “kill Narendra Modi” conspiracy.
Shamima, who stays in Mumbra said, ‘‘we had been saying from the beginning that my daughter was innocent but no one listened. With the exposure of the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauserbi, we hope justice will prevail.’’
Shamima said that the inquiry should be done by an independent agency like CBI as the state police cannot be said to be above board. ‘‘The police’s version of the ‘Modi assassination conspiracy’, the nature of the ‘encounter’, and also claims about the links of the slain with terrorist outfits, appeared to be, and continue to remain shrouded in mystery. The instruction by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to the Gujarat police, in response to Ishrat’s mother appeal, to take appropriate action in regard to the investigation of the case, confirmed that the police’s version had failed to pass even the prima facie test,’’ the report said.
It further pointed out several contradictions in the police’s account of the encounter and said the manner in which the body of one of the alleged terrorists was found lying on the road “creates suspicion whether he had indeed come out of the car and fired at the police.” In Pune, then commissioner of police D N Jadhav (now, commissioner of police, Mumbai) had replied categorically that a search of Javed’s house in Pune did not reveal anything to suggest that he was a terrorist connected with the Let.
Significantly, the Pune police had also confirmed that Javed who was killed along with Ishrat was not associated with the Students Islamic Movement of India and did not have a criminal record either.
In Rafiqsha case, the campaign to seek justice has been taken up by ‘Kutch-Saurashtra Encounters-Truth Finding Committee,’ a group newly formed by former councillor Rahim Sora. Joined with Sora is the victim’s mother Jetunben. In a letter written to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), with copies marked to Rajkot District Collector, CID (Crime) and GPCC leaders, Jetunben has demanded action against two officers from Rajkot LCB and Jetpur city police who had led the “encounter” on July 18, 2005.
After the incident, Jetunben had registered a murder complaint in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Jetpur. And the court had ordered a probe under CRPC 156(3) but Jetunben keeps waiting for justice since then. “It was not an encounter. He was just killed by the policemen,’’ said Jetunben in the letter.
According to the police theory, Rafiq was killed in encounter when police fired in self-defense between the marketing yard wall and railway tracks at Jetpur around 9:30 pm on July 18, 2005. The team was led by Jetpur city PI B G Limbasia and Rajkot LCB PSI V K Gadhvi.
Says Jetunben: “The police theory that Rafiq snatched the revolver of a PI and opened fire, which led Gadhvi to fire back and emerge unscathed, is unrealistic. Besides, when Rafiq had fallen down after receiving two bullets, the police fired the third round. What was the need of the third round?”
So, while the ruling Congress-led coalition lashes out at the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in Gujarat for killing Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Kauser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati as alleged Laskhar-e-Toiba operatives, it seems to have forgotten the blotch left by the custodial murder case of Yunus in Maharashtra.
Encounter deaths in Maharashtra have come to be defined by the larger-than-life images that “encounter specialists” enjoy in the state’s police force. They were often eulogized by the media and public, with films made in their tribute.
The Khwaja Yunus Case is another case of brutal murder in police custody where six police officers were charged with murder. The Mumbai High Court, while hearing the plea for CBI investigation and compensation filed by Khwaja Yunus’s mother, Ayisha Sayed Yunus, has made harsh observations about the behaviour and conduct of the police. The high court had passed an order in the writ petition filed on April 7, 2004, directing that the state treat the statement of Dr Mohammed Abdul Mateen Abdul Basit as an FIR.
The HC had also directed the state to register a separate case for offences of murder in custody (Sections 302 and 201 read with Section 34 of the IPC).The HC had taken serious note of the fact that “there appears to be an attempt on behalf of the police officers and constables to mislead the judicial inquiry.
Khwaja Yunus was arrested in 2002, two days after he returned from Dubai, and has ‘disappeared since January 2003’. Though believed to be tortured and killed, his body is yet to be found. His father died of grief.
“Now it is an undisputed fact that in many of the alleged “encounters” the victims are already in the illegal custody of the police and they are tortured to sign various documents against them while they are illegally confined,” says Rohit Prajapati, an activist with the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Vadodara. “While claiming to counter ‘terrorism’ the state is becoming a grossly powerful terrorist itself through self-empowerment of indiscriminate authority. These encounters should be considered state terrorism.”